While Formula 1 definitely, and Lewis Hamilton apparently, have moved on from what went down at the 2021 title decider in Abu Dhabi, Toto Wolff seemingly hasn’t.
Ever since the 2023 F1 season finale in Abu Dhabi ended last Sunday, I have been contemplating writing this Editor’s Desk, as it is about a topic – that I felt, and surely many others as well – that is water under the bridge.
It’s the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Safety Car controversy that saw Max Verstappen snatch that season’s Drivers’ Crown from Lewis Hamilton after what was deemed a human error that saw the errant race director Michael Masi pay for it dearly with his job, not to mention the online abuse that he suffered from the legions of keyboard warriors in the aftermath.
That is not to forget the amount of hatred that was flung against both Hamilton and Verstappen over social media platforms, some demeaning the latter’s first F1 Title, others defending him and attacking the former, both parties wrong, as we have insisted at GrandPrix247 that Verstappen was a worthy Champion, and Hamilton would’ve been a worthy eight-time Champion had things gone his way.
It was a dark period our F1 went through, one we hoped was left behind as a new era of the sport started in 2022 with new regulations, for that reason, I took my time before writing these words, but Wolff forced my hand here.
It seems that, as much as we want to look ahead, Wolff still wants to look back, trying at every available opportunity to bring up Abu Dhabi 2021.
Mercedes went to Abu Dhabi four points ahead of Ferrari in the 2023 F1 Constructors’ Championship both fighting for the runner-up position and even before any action took place at Yas Marina, Wolff was asked about the fight with Ferrari.
Quoted by The Race, Wolff said: “We’re going there on pretty much equal points, we have a proper race director, so that should be fine.”
Was there any need there to take a dig at Masi? The guy has paid for his mistakes, consigned to oblivion, and off making a living somewhere else…
Toto keeps on bringing up Abu Dhabi
As it turned out, the fight with Ferrari for runner up position was a tense one, Charles Leclerc trying some smart tactics to stop George Russell from getting on the podium, the Monegasque even trying to help the penalty-hit Sergio Perez to finish ahead of Russell.
In the end, Mercedes achieved the honor of being the “first of the losers” and Wolff reflected on the fight with Ferrari.
“It was a great end for the fight for P2,” he told Sky Sports F1. “George’s driving was exceptional. I think Charles at the end was sportsmanlike behaviour, not trying to slow down. Two great teams, two great friends that fought to the end.”
But then, he just couldn’t help himself, again bringing up Abu Dhabi 2021, saying: “I was not stressed. I was stressed once in my life in F1 and that was here a couple of years ago.”
Again, was that really required, coming from the boss of an eight-time F1 Constructors’ Champion?
But you know what, Wolff should be stressed, about the 2024 F1 season, because there will be no hiding for him next year if the W15 – which Hamilton and Russell so eagerly await – turns out to be another enigmatic brick of a car such as the W14 and the W13 have been under Toto’s watch.
In the end, after a dismal two years, the buck stops with the Mercedes boss
Instead of dwelling on the past, Wolff should be focusing and looking ahead to 2024 and make sure he leads his stumbling team out of the pit they have been in since the start of 2022, and before anyone says that third (2022) and second (2023) for Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship is far from being a disaster, finishing 451 points behind Red Bull is humiliating.
That is not to mention that Mercedes head to every race in 2023 not knowing what to expect from their woeful W14. They were simply lost.
Mike Elliott fell on his sword, the “zero-pod” concept being his brainchild, and left Mercedes after initially being removed to the Chief Technical Officer position, a hands-off position, far from day-to-day running of the technical department, which James Ellison was tasked with, again.
But in the end, the buck stops with Wolff. He is the boss and he has the final signature on the team’s decisions and plans.
And instead of amateurishly bringing up Abu Dhabi 2021 at every possible chance, maybe he should focus on giving Hamilton a decent car with which he can fight for that eighth F1 Drivers’ Championship which he missed out on after that fateful night in Abu Dhabi in 2021.